/ 11 March 2008

Zuma case: Lawyers scrap over warrants

African National Congress president Jacob Zuma sat quietly in the front row of the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, listening to his legal team challenge the validity of the warrants used to seize documents that could be used against him in his forthcoming corruption trial.

With a quick pat on the back for newly ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte and a warm handshake to investigator Johan du Plooy, the man who could be president settled next to Pierre Moynot, chief executive of Thint, a French arms company implicated in the bribes Zuma is alleged to have received.

In contrast to previous court appearances marked by thunderous supportive singing, only the whirring of camera shutters aimed at Zuma could be heard.

A lone protester from South African Prisoners’ for Human Rights, draped in chains, stood under a tree across the road from the court bearing the ubiquitous placard ”Zuma for President”.

Objection to searches

The court is hearing four related applications by Zuma, his attorney Michael Hulley, Thint and Thint Holdings Southern Africa for leave to appeal against three judgements of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on November 8 2007.

They object to the searches carried out on their premises as part of the investigation against Zuma, after Zuma’s former financial adviser and confidant Schabir Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption relating to paying a R500 000 a year bribe to Zuma for support and protection of Thint during the arms-deal process.

Zuma was ”released” of his duties as deputy president after that and charged with corruption, but the case was taken off the roll, pending various appeals including the validity of the searches and seizures.

The SCA ruled against them and Zuma and Thint are arguing that the warrants that allowed the searches, granted by Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, were invalid because they were ”over broad” and vague, and did not list exactly what should be seized.

Zuma’s lawyer Kemp J Kemp said that all the state had to do was attach an affidavit which would tell those conducting the searches more about the investigation and which information to look for. This would have prevented both the seizure of documents unrelated to the case and potential violations of privacy and lawyer/client privilege.

He said the warrants were so vague that even the people whose premises were searched on August 18 2005 would not know which documents were being sought.

Best documented case of corruption

Between 250 to 300 officials arrived at Zuma’s homes in Johannesburg, his homestead in Nkandla and his offices, Hulley’s office, and the home and offices of Moynot at about 6.30am on August 18.

Kemp said that without the specific details, those being searched would also not be able to point out and raise objections to the seizure of information or items that fell outside the scope of the warrant.

The officials would not know what to look for either.

In court papers, it was argued that this could lead to the state gaining access to confidential notes on Zuma’s defence and raised concerns about his right to a fair trial.

Kemp said that the vagueness of the documents was why the state had ended up with 93 000 pages. He quipped that it must be the ”best documented case of corruption ever in the history of the world”.

According to court papers Hulley said that he was not immediately familiar with the section of the National Prosecuting Act (NPA) that would have allowed him to object immediately. It was only on his way to the airport that he called the NPA investigators in an attempt to have the documents sealed while he applied for a court order objecting to the search.

Kemp said that in spite of a list of items noted on the warrant, the officials only took boxes of Zuma’s financial records, transferred to Hulley when Shaik resigned as Zuma’s financial adviser.

Earlier, Thint lawyer Peter Hodes questioned why the arms company had been targeted for a search-and-seizure raid in the investigation against Jacob Zuma, saying it had already been summonsed and had handed over ”massive amounts” of documents to the NPA, including a diary they had sought.

He said the state had not made a case to the judge when asking for the warrants.

”The judge issuing a search warrant is not a rubber stamp, a case has to be made out for it,” said Hodes.

The state had had the benefit of a ”general ransack pursuant to a defective search warrant”.

Hodes said the June 2005 warrants had told the investigators searching Thint premises that ”you go and look. If you find anything you like, good luck to you.”

However, Justice Zak Yacoob questioned whether the fact that the warrants referred explicitly to Shaik did not make it clear to the searcher what was being searched for.

”You don’t need much imagination to work out what was wanted,” said Yacoob. – Sapa